“Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us.” So sayeth the pupulist firebrand Mary Elizabeth Lease in 1890. “She should see us now,” comments Bill Moyers in a ringing speech reprinted inThe Nation.
What caught my interest particularly in this typically brilliant Moyers peroration was that he can put a date on when the more recent takeover of government by Big Money began (Aug. 23, 1971) and what triggered the revolution. According to this analysis, our troubles began on that date with the circulation of a secret memo by Lewis Powell, a board member of Philip Morris and a big wheel in the national Chamber of Commerce.
Powell railed against recently enacted environmental statutes—the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and others—saying they would destroy the American free enterprise system. If Powell’s name is familiar, it’s because later that year he was nominated and confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court. His memo was still secret and didn’t become public until after his confirmation. One wonders if Wikileaks had been in business what might have happened instead.
Powell urged the Chamber to mount a major counterattack against these new regulations and the Chamber responded vigorously, tripling its membership quickly and bringing renewed pressure on legislators and agencies in Washington, rewriting many of the rules to their own benefit. Moyers is particularly scornful of the recent Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, which effectively took all limits off the corporate financing of election campaigns.
There’s much more to gnaw on in this piece; I recommend it.